I’ve focussed quite a bit on the design element and the show gardens in my previous Chelsea posts. In this, my final post about my visit I’d thought I’d share the plants that caught my attention and something of the atmosphere on press day.
The Great Pavilion is truly enormous. The flower marquees at both Malvern and Hampton Court shows are impressive but this place was like an aircraft hangar. If the focus on design outside isn’t your thing then the nursery stands inside the pavilion could certainly absorb you for a whole day. These are plants and flowers at their peak and prime; nurtured over previous months by their nervous growers in the hope that they will be ready in time. All sorts of techniques are employed to achieve the stunning displays and I’m impressed that with one of the coldest springs on record everything looked so remarkable. I could have done with more time to wander around the pavilion and feel I didn’t give many of the stands enough attention. Of those I did see, one of my favourites was the incredible J S Pennings De Bilt hyacinth stand, which I smelt before I even saw it. The perfume really was incredible even on such a cold day. I loved the National Collection of dahlias which showed perfectly the wide range of flowers and forms that are available. I particularly liked the single varieties, especially this ‘Twyning’s Revel’ with its dark stems and foliage and gorgeous pink flowers.
The display of alliums on the Warmenhoven stand were dramatic and theatrical and gave me a few ideas for containers of my own next year. The Hillier’s stand was incredible. The colour and sheer energy was impressive particularly on such a dull, overcast day, although there was nothing subtle about it. They transport nearly 3,500 plants to Chelsea to build their stand from birch trees so tall they almost scrape the top of the pavilion to the smallest of perennials.
I must mention the artisan garden designed by Ishihara Kazuyuki called ‘An Alcove’ or ‘Tokonoma’. The design recreated an area within a traditional Japanese tatami room, somewhere where meetings would take place with important people. Sometimes the gardens that evoke somewhere come in for stick with the accusation that they are a bit clichéd and not cutting edge. I loved it. I have always wanted to visit Japan but I’m not sure I’ll ever get there, so to see a part of their culture up close was a real treat. Mr Kazuyuki’s attention to detail is incredible – the cobbles, the moss, the acers, it was a delight and deservedly won ‘best in show’ in the artisan garden category.
For the 100th anniversary gnomes had been given special dispensation and were allowed access to the site. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed I didn’t see any. The two men wandering around in gnome costumes didn’t count in my opinion.
By lunch time the frantic buzz around the show gardens from the press photographers had waned, but as the celebrities who are invited arrived, flash bulbs started to go off once again. Spotting Ringo Starr and his wife, Bond Girl Barbara Bach, I attempted to subtly get a shot for Wellyman of his teenage crush. Barbara Bach of course, not Ringo. Unfortunately I was muscled out of the way by a much more experienced photographer and ended up with a shot of the back of their heads. I did manage to sneak on to Chris Beardshaw’s garden, behind Anneka Rice, when it was opened up for the celebrities to have a wander around. Not because I was particularly interested in her but it did mean I got a much better look at the garden and plants. Another of Wellyman’s crushes he’s rather gutted he wasn’t able to go.
Alcohol was flowing by the time I left, whether it was champagne, Pimms or Mark Diacono’s cocktails. If you were a member of the build team for the Trailfinders Australian garden I think it might have been flowing a little earlier. I was stood next to one of them at 9.30am and he already had a pint of something in his hand. They were all dressed in matching outfits which meant they looked like they were all on a stag do. I can only imagine what their celebrations were like the following day when they found out they had won gold and ‘best in show’. I, on the other hand, was a bit like the rabbit in the advert that didn’t get the Duracell batteries. After only two hours sleep the night before my energy levels were running low by about 2pm and I didn’t think it was wise to partake myself. I would have loved another trip around the Great Pavilion, but my legs wouldn’t take me any further and, with a long drive back to Wales, I wandered out of the show ground just as the police arrived to secure the area for the arrival of the Queen.
I loved my first visit to Chelsea. There are elements of it that are elitist and out of touch with how most of us live and garden. I’d like to see more variety in the designs, more edibles and grow your own on display but it’s good to have something that’s glamorous, exciting and inspiring every once in a while. And, ultimately, Chelsea Flower Show is a great showcase for horticulture.